Research News

Economic recession may have caused 10 000 extra suicides

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 12 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3809
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

Around 10 000 extra suicides in the Western world from 2008 to 2010 were highly likely to be related to the recent economic recession, a study has concluded.1

The study, by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry on 12 June. It said that suicide rates had risen significantly across Europe, Canada, and the United States since 2007 and that the increase was four times higher among men. However, it noted that certain interventions, such as return to work programmes and prescribing antidepressants, could help to lessen the risk of suicide in hard economic times.

The researchers analysed recently released data on suicide from the World Health Organization covering 24 European Union countries, Canada, and the US. They noticed that a downward trend in suicide rates in Europe had reversed when the economic crisis began in 2007, rising by 6.5% by 2009 and remaining at that higher level through to 2011. In Canada suicides rose by 4.5% from 2007 to 2010, and the rate in the US increased by 4.8% over the same period.

The report’s authors said they believed that at least 10 000 additional suicides had been due to the economic hardship experienced in European countries, Canada, and the US, adding that their estimates were “conservative.” However, they noted marked differences in suicide rates across countries affected by the same recession—which, they argued, meant that increased suicides during an economic crisis were not inevitable. The most common risk factors leading to suicide during economic downturns were job losses, home repossession, and debt, said the authors.

Prescribing rates increased sharply during the recession in some countries, such as the United Kingdom,2 where a rise of 11% in prescribing antidepressants from 2003 to 2007 accelerated to a 19% rise from 2007 to 2010.

The lead author was Aaron Reeves, of the University of Oxford’s Department of Sociology, who said, “A range of interventions, from return to work programmes through to antidepressant prescriptions, may reduce the risk of suicide during future economic downturns.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3809


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